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Does the perfect jury exist? If you’re a psychologist who’s opted to combine a psychological background with the American legal sector, you know that if it’s not completely possible, your skills have allowed both the prosecution and defense to come really close to putting together that perfect jury. Judging by just a few of the contemporary and infamous trials in recent history, it appears there is indeed a high level of accuracy in terms of how a forensic psychologist guides his legal team during voir dire, according to founder and attorney, A. Harrison Barnes. In fact, jury consulting is one of those fast growing areas, with hundreds of various firms that report annual profits into the stratosphere. But what is it that an environmental or forensic psychologist can bring to the table? Because of their educational background, a psychological consultant can carefully word the questions on jury questionnaires, they can catch the slightest of nuances on a potential juror’s face as he’s being questioned by either side and not surprisingly, a psychological background allows for an accurate and fast reading of facial movements and body language that could reveal far more than any lay person can even begin to understand.

As humans, each of us is shaped by our life experiences. Childhood experiences, our level of education, morals, religion, political views and even sexual orientation are all factors a juror uses subconsciously when hearing and deciding a case, says A. Harrison Barnes. A psychologist can take all of these factors, both obvious and subtle, and quickly provide a juror profile. Because the most obvious jurors with definitive bias or other “deal breakers” are usually immediately sent home by the judge; forensic psychologist must work with those who remain. Their goal is to catch certain nuances and tell-tale narrowing of the eyes, a shift to one side of a chair to the other and even whether or not they lean in to listen or take a more relaxed stance with legs stretched out all tell a story.

“It’s a fast growing sector within the legal field and an extremely important one, at that”, says the founder. In fact, lawyers rely on their consultants to ensure aspects like whether or not an attorney and potential juror can “connect” and whether or not the juror will be able to approach the evidence with an open mind or even if the signs exist that he will attempt to hide bias. Engineering the perfect panel requires, of course, an educational background in both psychology and law and this is also one of those fields where experience counts.

During the 2004 murder trial of Scott Peterson, who was convicted and sentenced to death in California for the death of his wife and unborn son, one juror, nicknamed Strawberry Shortcake because of her ever-changing hair colors, became the proverbial “perfect specimen” as far as jurors go. The psychological consultant for the prosecution had paid close attention to the tattooed wife and mother who was clearly a “free spirit”. No one was quite sure why she wasn’t eliminated at any stage, but when the prosecutor asked her about her tattoos, Howard Varinsky, the prosecutor’s consultant, noticed what he calls a “microexpression of rage” before she covered it. She knew the educated lawyers were really asking if she could play a responsible role in the trial that was receiving global attention. Varinsky continued, saying he “knew she would never walk Scott Peterson. Ever.” The prosecutors trusted Varinsky’s instinct and kept her. Of course, Peterson was convicted weeks later.

For those who are passionate about both the medical and legal fields, this is a great opportunity to combine the two and make a significant contribution to both fields in the process.

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